Title Page Previous Next Contents | Part 3. Was environmental health protected on 9/11? Whistleblowers, watchdogs and wee little people >Schools reopen

Schools reopen


Among the people of the neighborhoods surrounding Ground Zero there was confusion and widespread public mistrust. This was particularly the case among parents of area school children, many of whom came home complaining of respiratory illnesses, headaches and nosebleeds. There were five high schools and elementary schools downtown close enough to the Towers to have been evacuated on the day of the terror attacks (and seven total near the towers); yet one of these, Stuyvesant High School, a highly visible, prestigious place, re-opened within a month later.


“If I knew then what I know now, I would never have sent my child back,” says Marilena Christodoulou, the president of the Parents’ Association for Stuyvesant High School, and the mother of a student there. “The government was reckless  [in response to health hazards] starting all the way from Washington down to Mayor Giuliani,” says Christodoulou, “because in trying to trying force a return to normalcy too quickly, I fear a lot of people will suffer.”


The day that the school reopened, in a powerful statement of New York City’s resilience in response to the horrific terrorist events, all was not normal, she says. Soon after, she says, there were long lines of kids complaining of illnesses outside the nurse’s office. “My son Peter waited for two periods on line, so long were the lines,” she recalls.


According to Christodoulou, and press reports at the time, about 100 students and teachers had complained of mysterious headaches, nosebleeds and nasal stuffiness since returning to the school Oct. 9 after a month in temporary quarters. Other students were also suffering from ailments they didn’t report to the school nurse, Christodoulou says. By January, she says, about a third of teachers were still suffering various physical ailments while many students were also complaining of various ill effects.


A major factor, Christodoulou believes, was the presence outside the school of trucks carrying hazardous debris to the barge used to transport the wastes to the landfill.


“The schools should have been closed and residents should not have been allowed to go back,” she concludes. There was so little faith in health authorities that the local schools Board of Education hired its own consultants to assess safety of schools. After many complaints, carpets, vents and interiors underwent heavy testing and cleaning.

But it wasn’t just school parents who were divided by suspicion, mistrust and anger.  Some residents were distrustful enough of official health assurances that they moved out for months.  Their absence added to the sudden displacement of workers and residents in the area. In early October, the New York City Economic Development Corporation estimated that the terrorist attacks displaced 80,000 to 100,000 of the 300,000 people who worked in lower Manhattan

From the very moment that the terrorist attacks began, the health of great numbers of people began to be potentially affected, according to federal health documents. (13) Injured people began flocking to local hospitals within minutes of the attack and peaked two to three hours later.


“Among 790 injured survivors treated within 48 hours, approximately 50% received care within 7 hours of the attack, most for inhalation or ocular injuries; 18% were hospitalized.”


The high particulate count could have been of grave health importance to some populations, leading to heart attacks and asthma worsening, according to Lung Chi Chen, of New York University Department of Environmental Medicine.

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